Even when he didn’t have a match, Barrett started spending most of his time at the arenas. He needed to check up on future opponents, after all. Not that he could watch most of them, but he could still survey some of them. Over the last few days he had watched over a hundred matches, most of which weren’t of much interest.
The current match wasn’t very exciting either. It was a duelist versus a warrior. The warrior swung a big sword that was too heavy for him to wield effectively- he couldn’t swing it fast enough to get a hit, so it didn’t matter what sort of damage he would cause if he did hit. The duelist, meanwhile, fought using daggers. She was nimble and quick, stabbing into openings in the warrior’s armor. Though the warrior had a decent degree of toughness, he was quickly piling up injuries and losing steam throughout the fight… until he was defeated.
It was a one-sided, boring match… but it made Barrett frown. Something about the fight… but there had to be a hundred participants who used daggers. Yet, he still couldn’t stop thinking of Victoria. The participant in the match was called Nina- and she looked almost nothing like Victoria. That didn’t matter though. The fighting style was close enough. There was a small chance she wasn’t Victoria… but there was no chance she wasn’t a member of the Silver Blades. Barrett had fought them too many times to mix up their style. The thing was, the Silver Blades were banned from fighting in the arena.
Barrett elbowed Master Hykel, “Let’s go talk.” There were far too many people around them in the stands at the arena. Chances are, they wouldn’t care about what he was saying. But some tiny sliver would still be there… and perhaps someone was watching.
Master Hykel understood the idea, and took Barrett to the Smiling Tiger, a restaurant operated by a trustworthy friend. They got a small back room. “So, what is it?”
“That person… Nina, from… the Bronze Steppes, was it? She’s a Silver Blade. In fact, she’s probably Victoria. You know some trustworthy people who work for Stredo, right? How high up do they go?”
Master Hykel stroked his chin, “Well, personally my friend who oversaw your duel before is the highest… but one of the five grandmasters should know someone… Silver Blade, hmm…”
“Exactly. They should still be forbidden from the arena for like… over a century or something.”
Master Hykel nodded, “Perhaps they got the sentence reduced- but that would still tell us something. In addition, entering under a false identity…” Master Hykel shook his head, “It will be hard to prove. The Silver Blade does like to deny its members when they get in trouble.”
Barrett groaned, “Somehow they just get away with everything. They must be paying off someone very important. However, if it is Victoria, we know she uses Silver Blade fighting styles and works under their employ. Specifically that time she came with a large group of them to try to kill me- but also her calling them in to the ancient wind mage’s trials.”
“Well, I’ll see what I can do. With the arena matches, interference is tricky. We’d most likely have to catch her doing something more outside the rules.”
Barrett shrugged, “Should be easy enough. The Silver Blades really hate me so… if we make it clear I’m in the tournament, if they don’t already know… well, we don’t exactly know future matches yet, right? Maybe I’ll end up against one of them, and I’m sure they’d try to cheat if they can’t beat me otherwise. Though there’s still the curse…” Barrett put a hand on his chest, “Actually… it doesn’t do anything when I’m in the arena. It either can’t or they’re saving that for something…”
“Interesting. Well, I’ll see what we can do. I’m sure you’re aware of the risks already, but now is probably your last chance to back out.”
“If I did that, I might as well kill myself. It would save a lot of time and pain.” Barrett shook his head, “But I’d much rather go down fighting.”
“Good!” Master Hykel grinned. “I’ll see who the Sect can contact… and maybe I’ll get in touch with a few other enemies of the Silver Blade. Or maybe I’ll ask someone with more finesse to do that part.”
Barrett found the next few matches… surprisingly easy. While that could have been a coincidence- there was no guarantee that his opponents didn’t just happen to face off against other weak enemies- he was almost halfway through the tournament brackets- less than a thousand participants remained- and he was just early third tier. He didn’t want to disparage his own abilities, but while he thought he could have placed this far or maybe a bit further, that was only if he wasn’t cursed. However, he was cursed, and was still fighting under the assumption that the curse could activate at any time. Thus, he was severely limited in what he could do.
Then, all guessing was gone when he found himself matched up next against Nina from the Bronze Steppes. He looked at Master Hykel, who just nodded. Things were as ready as they were going to get. Barrett just had to go in and do his best. If they didn’t have to cheat, then all preparations were pointless- even though revealing a false identity should be enough, Barrett wasn’t going to count on it.
It was possible they wouldn’t cheat and Barrett would just win, but in that case the accusations of false identity wouldn’t be coming from a sore loser lashing out, so they might still be able to get an actual investigation. Barrett didn’t know all the details behind everything- because Master Hykel didn’t know either. Thus, he just had to do what he always did. Hit things until everything was over.
When Barrett stepped up onto the arena, he felt a twinge inside him. It was the curse reacting… to his opponent stepping up on the stage. Well, that diminished some ambiguity for who cursed him. The only remaining question was if Victoria also knew curses on top of poisons, invisibility magic, and all her other tricks. Part of Barrett wanted it to be her… but the other part hoped it was someone weaker. Then the referee called the start of the match, and he didn’t have time to think anymore.